Thursday, 30 April 2009

Best of Friends - Cathy Kelly

I was introduced to Cathy Kelly's writing when I borrowed a couple of her novels at Christmas time. Dubbed the "new" Maeve Binchy, I can see many similarities in Kelly's writing style, albeit with a slightly younger, fresher perspective. Both write with empathy, warmth and humour, developing character-based stories, many of whom the reader can easily identify with. The pace is slower than Marian Keyes tomes, and I love the Irish settings and mannerisms present in all three authors' works.

Best of Friends (2005) overcomes its cheesy title to tell a tale of female friendship. These are not clichéd friends who have known each other since the beginning of time and will remain forever loyal, no. Instead, this novel shows how valuable female friendship and companionship can be, but also allows boundaries, ie space and time out when needed. With characters the reader can identify with, and some deep issues to explore, this is a story of life and how friendship can help to develop a wider support network.

Best of Friends is a light, heartwarming read and, for me, a great introduction to Cathy Kelly's novels. I have another one sitting on my bookshelf and will look forward to devouring everything written by this "new" author as light relief in between reading some grittier, deeper books.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A bath by candlelight

For me, I find very little that is more relaxing than a long soak in a warm bath in the evening. Throw in some epsom salts and light a few candles ... such a simple act, yet complete bliss.

So, how on earth does a simple act like this become one of my 101 goals, right up there with some big life-changing things? Well, I honestly can't remember the last time I just had a bath to relax. I've occasionally had one following a massage, or to relieve a sore back/arms/neck etc. But this kind of indulgence ... well, it's been a long time. Until tonight, that is. And the candles? There's no more forgiving way to create such subtle ambiance. Ahhhh.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Feather Fairy

A long-standing hobby of mine is cross-stitch embroidery. I started my first one while I still at school and haven't stopped since. In recent years, I've had less time for sewing, but it's still something I pick up occasionally and continue with. Tonight, I finished my latest project, The Feather Fairy.

The colours are much bolder than what is shown in the photo. (It could also do with an iron!) This design is one in a series of patterns from Mirabilia, of which I have completed about 15. I have also worked on about 10 Lavender & Lace patterns, created by the Mirabilia's designer's mother. To be honest, I don't know how many I've completed in total over the years; I ran out of wall space along time ago, so most are now packed up and sitting in my parents' basement. You guessed it: I'm a process person, rather than someone who is motivated by finished products.

The Feather Fairy is one of those projects that I started a couple of years ago. Stitching with cotton (DMC) is what I enjoy most and I have several hundred shades in my collection. This pattern had four spools of Kreinik metallic braid (it's expensive!) and some dark maroon seed beads. Again, I had dozens of shades of glass beads so decided to cut back on costs and substitute a similar colour I already had for the ones required. They seem like a good match and add some great texture.

Now all that's left to do is for me to stitch a signature at the bottom (usually my initials and the year), then I will take it to Nancy's Embroidery to choose a frame. Nancy's also stretch and pad it before framing. I'm quite discerning with the frames I select. It's a process I prefer to do on my own, ie without 'helpful' assistance from well-meaning observers. I place my embroidery on the floor and then browse all the frames available. Almost every time, I end up going with the very first frame I grab off the wall. Once or twice I went against my initial intuition and was disappointed in the final result, but the rest look great.

One of my 101 goals is to complete two embroideries within 1001 days, so that makes one more to go. I have already ordered my next pattern. The Bliss Fairy will match the The Feather Fairy.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Other Boleyn Girl

I have just finished watching The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). The story is based on an historical novel of the same name by Philippa Gregory. The costumes and sets are impressive, but the narrative plays hard and fast with the facts. One aspect I particular enjoy about movies and books such as this one is the ability for history to come to life through character portrayals. Personalities are often glossed over or exaggerated in written descriptions, so the opportunity to observe some of the characters' finer nuances and get to know them as more rounded people is enjoyable. The screenplay does not fully achieve this, but makes a good attempt.

I am the first to admit that my knowledge of history (apart from music and its relationship with art, architecture and religious history) is patchy at best. However, it's not difficult to see that The Other Boleyn Girl has huge jumps in events (leaving various holes in the story), while history hangs very loosely by a thread. Marriages, babies and family members are casually dispatched along the way with little or no explanation as the plot rapidly moves on.

If you are able to put aside the many historical inaccuracies in this story, The Other Boleyn Girl is an entertaining movie and goes towards giving some insight into the often dodgy actions and activities of England's royal family in the 1500s. (Before and after that: no comment.)

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Café Chick on Twitter

I have been an irregular tweeter for the past year and a half in the context of my job. I remember raising an eyebrow to Twitter in the early days and wondering when or how (and why) I would want to use it. I set up an account and released a few hesitant tweets. My network slowly grew as colleagues and other work associates also came on board, but mostly I sat back and lurked while the Twitter world exploded around me, participating occasionally.

I found some tweets really helpful when compiling work-related resources, looking for research and supporting links, or for keeping up with who was doing what in their professional lives. What quickly became tiresome, however, were the exhibitionist-type tweets from people who including tweets such as these:
"Putting on my pyjamas now, ready for a cup of tea and bed. Night!"
"Just been for a run. Hope it motivates me to work now."
"Sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to Nelson. It's late, grrr."
"Flight is delayed further. Damn *insert airline name here*"
"The kids are still awake way past bedtime. Any suggestions?"
"Morning all. Another gloomy day in Rotorua but heading home tonight.""Not sure what to have for breakfast. Toast or cereal?"
"Toast it is, then. Now, jam or peanut butter?" etc ...
Ahem. Yes, I realise that Twitter's strapline is What are you doing? but isn't this taking things a little bit too far? I guess it depends on your purpose for tweeting, and which kinds of networks you wish to develop. While I'm sure some people would find the tv programme they are currently watching to be fascinating, I don't really need a minute by minute update of what's going on. Then there are the repeated tweets back and forth between two people, ie a complete conversation but in full view of the rest of the Twitter community. I have a suggestion, people: instant messaging.

The thing about the Twitter monster is that the bigger it grows, the more it consumes you. Once you starting following 100+ active tweeters, or have them follow you, then the frequency of updates can easily run away on themselves. Logging in less frequently only results in hundreds of tweets banking up to be read later; in reality, I skip them by refreshing my Twitterrific to start each session with a blank slate. Ahhh.

The international media's recent interest in Twitter intrigues me. Seen as the 'latest' trend, I don't think people realise that micro-blogging has been around for a few years now. I also smile at the way some try to get to grips with the associated terminology: a Twitter page/site (technically: account), "Twitter about it" (tweet), etc. When Ashton Kutcher attempted to break the 1 million followers mark (and succeeded), it started a Twitter-war with CNN, Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears also jumping on the bandwagon. In New Zealand, there are newspapers and airlines trying to drum up followers, whereas an RSS feed will work just as well.

As a side note, I'm both chuffed and amused to see that a former student of mine is just starting out with Twitter. She follows all of the above-named celebrities, and me, LOL. :-)

And now here I am with a brainwave: in order to avoid being an exhibitionist in my professional life, I'm going to set up a second Twitter account (yes, another one!) for Café Chick. Yes, folks, two for the price of one. I'm not sure it's really necessary, but I've opened the account and started transferring some of my more frivolous links. (I'd imagine Zen Cupcake would be perfect to follow on this account, lol.) Feel free to join me for the ride.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The name game

Names are important. They state who we are and, sometimes, a bit about ourselves. First names, middle names, last names; they all play a part in our lives. Often names are chosen for their meaning, or because they have special cultural relevance, or are part of a family tradition. Many names are chosen because parents simply like the sound of it. Then there are the names where we can only guess at what their parents were thinking at the time ...

The book I am reading at the moment mentions a character who wanted to call her baby daughter Spring Flower, but her mother insisted she be called Erin instead. A TV programme I watched years ago had a couple name their baby Tuesday. Predictably, the baby's grandfather asked "and what will we call her tomorrow?" It got me thinking about the most, erm, unusual names I had come across.

Some celebrities are well and truly onto the name game bandwagon with their offspring. In fact, it's almost compulsory these days to see who can compete for most unusual name and, as a result, see who can make the biggest chunk of world's population shudder in response. I think Frank Zappa took out the overall first prize when he rounded up the most eclectic collection of words in naming his clan (Diva, Moon Unit, Dweezil and Ahmet). Still, the Geldof family must get an honourable mention here (Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches and Pixie). Same for the Willis/Moore brood (Rumer, Scout LaRue and Tallulah Belle). Then there's the next generation: Apple Martin, Bluebell Madonna Halliwell, Jamie Oliver's daughters (Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo, and Petal Blossom Rainbow, their latest addition), and Sunday Roast Rose Kidman Urban. There's an interesting list here.

I heard that someone I was at school with has named her two daughters Summer and Willow. Somehow, I'm not surprised. Everyone seems to know of the proverbial twins, Benson & Hedges; somehow I think this one is an urban myth, even though others will argue to the contrary. Likewise Mt Albert Bus Stop (or another suburb name).

Every year, staff at most schools I have taught in have a mini-competition whereby we lightheartedly compare the names of students in our class this year and debate a winning order. Most years, the results were similar.

Here are a few of the most unusual names of students I have taught or had at my school in the past:
  • Tequila Sunrise - I kid you not. She won, hands down, several years running.
  • Quilla Moonbeam - Although I've never met another Quilla Moonbeam, and am unlikely to any time in the future, somehow she was such a Quilla Moonbeam that I wonder how her parents could possibly have known when they named her.
  • Zion and Jahraina - Sisters. Jahraina had terrible trouble with spelling, even in the best of times, so it took her longer to learn to spell her name than was reasonable and fair for her, poor dear.
  • Antalya and Tegwen - Again, sisters. I know these are both actual names/places (Antalya is a city is Turkey and Tegwen is Welsh in origin). They were just very unusual names in my class at the time and took a bit of getting used to by the other children.
  • Stormy - I have come across the name Storm several times, but poor Stormy had trouble trying to convince some people that this was his actual name and not a nickname.
  • Sequoia - more than a mouthful for this poor lass.
  • Chiquita - ditto.
What's the most unusual name you've come across in real life?

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Remember to feed the cat

My sweetie forwarded me this video yesterday. As someone who is slowing becoming accustomed to cats (well, just my sweetie's Zed, really), I can now understand where this is coming from and see why it is so funny. It certainly explains those 5am visits when Zed is up and ready to play but we just want to sleep.

I resolve that we ensure three things happen every night before bedtime:
  1. Zed is well-fed
  2. all baseball bats and/or other objects which could do serious night-time damage are kept out of Zed's reach
  3. we never buy a shotgun.
Credits unknown

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Anzac biscuits

ANZAC Day is fast approaching. 25 April is the day that New Zealand and Australia commemorates those who died in the service of their country and to honour returned servicemen and women. 25 April is the anniversary of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli in 1915. On the first anniversary of that landing services were held throughout the country in remembrance of the 2,721 New Zealand soldiers who died during the eight-month Gallipoli Campaign. Since 1916 ANZAC Day has evolved to the observance we know today.

Anzac biscuits

The baking of Anzac biscuits has evolved as one of the traditions associated with Anzac Day. One of the food items that women in New Zealand and Australia sent to soldiers during the First World War was a hard, long-keeping biscuit that could survive the journey by sea, and still remain edible. These were known as Soldiers' Biscuits, but after the Gallipoli landings in 1915, they became known as Anzac biscuits. Soldiers themselves may have made a similar form of biscuit from ingredients they had on hand: water, sugar, rolled oats and flour.

The traditional Anzac biscuit is hard and flat - ideal for dunking in tea and then eating. During the First World War, some soldiers used broken biscuits to make a form of porridge to add some variety to their diet.

To make my Anzac biscuits for this week's baking day, I used a traditional recipe. It is simple and great for kids to make - I've tried it with a few of my classes of 8-10 year olds.

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup dessicated coconut
  • 125 g butter
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Grease a biscuit tray.
  3. Mix oats, flour, sugar and coconut together.
  4. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the syrup and butter together. Mix the baking soda and the boiling water and add to the melted butter and syrup.
  5. Add butter mixture to the dry ingredients. Roll the mixture into small balls (about a dessertspoon in size) and place on greased biscuit tray, flattening slightly.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Makes approximately 30 biscuits.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Henna hands

A friend is about to approach a big milestone birthday which, naturally, she wants to ignore. We weren't going to let her get away with that, so she conceded and held a henna party for her girlfriends. I'd been to another henna party of hers a couple of years ago and had my hand hennaed with a gorgeous flower design, so I was keen to have it done again. Last night, about 30 women left with beautiful designs drawn on their hands, feet, and wrists.

It took about ten minutes for the henna artist (my friend's sister-in-law) to decorate my hand. I wanted something delicate and flowery and she quickly went to work. The henna dries after about 10-15 minutes, then it needs to be dabbed with cotton wool dipped into a mixture of lemon juice and sugar. This fixes the henna and helps reduce cracks in the design. The longer the henna stays on the skin in this state, the deeper the stain will be. I felt like Michael Jackson sleeping with a rubber glove on, but it did the trick; the henna is almost perfectly in tact this morning.

Shortly, I will remove the henna by dipping cotton wool in vegetable oil. This loosens the paste so it should wipe away easily and help boost the colour. The colour will darken over the next 24-48 hours, during which time I need to avoid getting it wet. (Rubber glove in the shower, here I come!) Then, I will be left with a lovely deep red/brown design for the next five days or so.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a step towards a tattoo. While I was keen to make this one of my 101 goals, and I love how pretty it looks, I'm also pleased that it's temporary.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Baking day

"I hereby declare one day (or night) per week: baking day."

I have decided to spend some time each week experimenting with baking, either trying a new recipe, a form of frosting, or just practising decorating. Last week, I baked a small batch of vanilla cupcakes and made some simple frosting with icing sugar, an egg white and lemon juice. I was surprised at how runny the frosting turned out, and how big the recipe was (even when halved), so when my Easter cupcakes ended up being peaked instead of flat, the icing ran everywhere. I'll have to figure out a way to thicken it up next time.

Today, I made a batch of banana cupcakes using up some old bananas. I decided to skip the frosting and instead jump straight to decorating by piping with milk chocolate melts. I was really pleased that my two piping bags made out of simple baking paper worked - my origami skills are improving! Here is the result of my experimenting tonight:

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Declutter your life

Titles like this make me laugh out loud. A character in a novel I am reading is a presenter for a TV show where she declutters people's homes. The irony is that she has trouble living up to her own standards. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!! It feels good to laugh at something like that. ;-)

I am a magpie by nature, an accumulator of stuff. I am not a shopper; I find shopping malls and kids with credit cards truly terrifying concepts. I have never bought a metal detector online nor a pair of boots with springs on the soles. (We have a friend who has done both.) I don't have rooms full of shoes, clothes, makeup, and assorted 'product'. However, I do collect up bits and pieces over a period of several years, then suddenly realise that I don't need (or want) it all.

The urge to purge has arrived, not in full force but enough to make me want to start pruning out bits and pieces from my stuff. I'm surprised, as it is currently mid-April and the urge usually only happens for one week some time in January, although my purge-clock has been somewhat askew these past two years. And so now I have a mild dose of it in April. Some stuff has already made it onto Trade Me. Other things were filed in the correct place (eg two years' worth of bank and credit card statements), while some stuff went directly to the bin. There is plenty more to do. I don't like simply throwing things away if they could be sold, donated, or reused, so I try to do this wherever possible.

My weak point, however, is in getting rid of presents from my former students, when I know they were so carefully chosen for me, yet are either:
  1. hideous
  2. incredibly childish, or
  3. entirely useless.
Some gifts fall into all three categories. It took several years to eventually burn the Samoan fale made out of a highly-polished upturned coconut shell (which I saw in abundance in the Samoan flea markets while I was there), but I still have the dreadful 2-inch long red painted wooden parrot earrings brought back by a girl who had visited Vanuatu with her family. Actually, I'm sure I could wear the earrings if we ever have a bad taste party. But what will I do with the plastic coffee mug which holds our class photo from 1998? Please don't say "drink out of it"; I can't even regift it! It's unlikely that I will ever see many of these students again, and even less likely that they will remember what they gave me in years gone past and demand to see it, so why can't/don't I just biff it?

Is there a gift that you've received which falls into either (or all) of the above categories, yet you cannot bring yourself to part with it? Is there any hope??

Monday, 13 April 2009

How do you read?

I love reading and consider it one of my favourite pastimes, both for learning purposes and pleasure. I have friends who are also avid readers, but their reading habits are vastly different to mine. Even friends with whom I share a common interest in books read them in a very different way to me. It's sometimes amazing to think that we can have so much in common (ie our love of books and reading), yet approach this in such diverse ways.

So here are a few facts about how I read:
  • I generally have 2-3 books on the go, usually a novel, a biography of some sort, and sometimes something lighter for when I'm too tired to concentrate on heavier content.
  • I am a book borrower, particularly of fiction. Most of my fiction books come from libraries or friends' bookshelves. Occasionally I am given a book (or, even less occasionally, buy one) and it almost always makes the rounds of several family and friends before one of them inadvertently finds a permanent home for it.
  • I don't tend to re-read books. I figure that there are so many millions of books in the world that I would like to read. Do I really have time to read one I've already read?
  • When I start a new book, I always check which year it was written in, then see how many pages there are, where the last chapter started (and how many chapters there are in total), and how long the first chapter is. I don't know why I do it, but somehow this practice helps me frame the structure of the book as a whole before tackling the finer details from start to finish.
  • When I am tired or very busy, I prefer reading books with shorter chapters or sections breaks which allow me to pick it up or put it aside more easily.
  • I am a cautious reader. I don't really understand how books can fall apart after only a couple of readings. I treat new books with utmost care; most people don't realise I have actually finished reading some books as the pages and cover are perfect (no dog-ears) and the spine still in tact.
  • I am happy to read a chapter or two at once, if that is all that my time allows. I have friends who cannot bear to do this; instead, they will lock themselves away for a full weekend and read a novel cover to cover in one go. I rarely do this.
  • I do most of my reading at night, just before going to sleep. Even if it is only for 10 minutes, this is how I prefer to relax before sleeping.
  • I love to peruse bookshelves, libraries, book stores, book stalls ...
  • I tend to look for new authors, rather than new titles. If I like an author's writing style, I will often end up reading a lot of their work.
How do you like to read?

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Games night

We aren't going away this Easter so, for Good Friday, we had some friends over for a games night. After perusing the supplies at both of our parents' houses, we found some board games we'd enjoyed playing in the past. With daylight savings ending in New Zealand last week, it's now time for winter get-togethers to happen. The Easter bunny had popped in earlier and left some goodies.

My sweetie and I warmed up with a couple of matches of Connect 4 and Othello. As our guests arrived, and the drinks started flowing, we moved to some games which allowed more players to be involved. Scattergories is perfect for this, providing that everyone is using the same list to play. If someone chooses to play with another list, as we found, then the scoring can be incredibly difficult but extremely amusing. We had some really interesting debates about what counts as an acceptable word within a category; eg is "exit" a way to get from here to there? Is "European" really a thing you shout? (It turns out that European was meant to be written down as a type of ethnic food, the category above. We laughed about this one for hours afterwards!)

After dessert, we moved on to Balderdash. I hadn't played this game before; it is absolutely hilarious. You are given a very difficult word and have to make up a definition for it. One person collects up everybody's definitions and writes the correct one on a piece of paper, then reads out everybody's definitions to the group. Each person chooses which definition they think is the right one. Those who are correct score a point. You also score points if other people choose your definition, ie if you have fooled someone else with your convincing definition. As the evening progressed, the definitions became even more 'creative', and some were straight-out dodgy! It was great to see so many of our friends crying with laughter while playing this game.

My sweetie has never played Cluedo before, a game I absolutely love, so we will have to keep it out and get a couple of others to join us on another occasion. I'm so glad that I chose this to be one of my 101 goals: #28 - Play a board game with friends. I'm even more glad that we had such a fun evening with friends on a long weekend.

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Easter bunny came early

... and brought chocolate cupcakes instead of Easter eggs.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Blog about blogging

I'd been thinking about blogging for a while and had started putting together a post in my head about why I blog: what is it that makes Café Chick who she is, and why does she bother? And then, along came Donna with a meme about blogging from Sunday Stealing. A perfect place to begin!

1. How did you come up with your blog title OR what does it mean?
I like the nature of story telling, so I wanted my blog to reflect this in some way. Whether the stories were long or short, I felt that the word tales captured this well. As for Café Chick, I played around with a few names and thought that this one sounded funky, yet multi-faceted enough to blog about whatever I wanted.

2. What are your general goals for blogging?
I originally started blogging about places I'd been to and stories I'd encountered along the way. Some of my early posts are almost reviews of cafés or restaurants; I now use Dineout and Menumania to review food and dining experiences, but often relate the stories on my blog. In July 2008 I started the Day Zero 101 goals in 1001 days project and use my blog as a way of documenting this. I generally aim to have one main subject per post, and to try and cover a range of topics. My purposes are multi-fold and incredibly self-indulgent; I blog partly to document/diarise events in my life, partly to explore things I find interesting, but most just because I can. ;-)

3. Do people “in your real life” know that you blog and do they comment on your blog OR is it largely anonymous?
As far as I'm aware, there are two 'real life' people who know my identity. One is my sweetie, who reads almost every word I post, probably to check what I write about him. :-P The other is a former work colleague, whose blog I enjoy following. I enjoy the anonymity that being Café Chick allows; she is a small, but fun, part of who I am as a person. She probably also gets away with sometimes saying things that the real me wouldn't be bold enough to come out with in real life. (See notes re self-indulgent, lol.)

4. How often do you post (x per week)?
I aim to post every day or two, depending on what I've been up to. I think I average about five posts per week.

5. How often do you read other blogs (x per week)?
Heaps. In addition to the many blogger blogs I follow, my RSS feed is full of blogs related to work (education), blogs written by my colleagues, blogs about blogging, blogs maintained by a couple of my real life friends, and Post Secret. I try to read through them daily.

6. How do you select blogs to read (do you prefer blogs that focus on certain topics or do you choose by tone or…?)
See above. I believe that many people blog for different purposes, and some bloggers maintain more than one blog or may cover a range of subjects. For the most part, I choose the one that's most relevant to me to follow, or one that has simply caught my interest.

7. Do you have any plans to copy your blog entries in any other format, 0r do you think that one day, you’ll just delete it all?
I don't think I'll just delete it all but, having said that, I did end up deleting most of my professional blog from a few years ago. I suppose I didn't need to; I just didn't feel that it was relevant any more. I also don't think I'll use my blog entries for any other purpose, although I sometimes enjoy browsing back at earlier posts and thinking, "wow, is that what I was doing around that time?" etc.

8. What are the things you like best about blogging?
I like to write. I like to read. I am also interested in people. Blogging, for me, brings together all three of these aspects, and I have got to know some amazing people from all around the world via their blogs. I find this to be one of the most valuable benefits of blogging.

9. What are the things you don’t like about blogging?
Nothing, really. The day I find blogging to be a chore is the day that I'll stop.

10. How do you handle comments?
I enjoy them, but I don't necessarily write for the purpose of eliciting comments, even though I am mindful of my potential audience. I don't see a comment-less post as being less successful than one which has sparked a whole screed of comments; as an educator, I know that so-called lurkers are still a valued part of any online community. Heck, I'm Lurker #1 in many instances, as I certainly don't comment on every blog or post that I read. I don't necessarily respond to comments I receive, even though I read every single one; I see comments as a valuable part of the blogging experience, but one which helps develop a wider blogging community, and not just a 1-1 relationship between me and the commenter. I love tracking visitors to my blog via my Clustr map (those little red dots are so exciting!) and my Flagcounter (ditto for each new country that pops up). It's amazing to think that people who don't know me and who live in more than 70 different countries have visited my blog!

11. Do you have any burning thoughts to share on blog etiquette?
Not really, although I get incredibly annoyed when people attempt to bypass my word verification and make a generic comment like "I like it" for the purpose of posting advertising links to dodgy websites on my blog. Grrr. I sometimes find it hard/annoying to read a pale font on a dark background, but mostly read posts via my RSS feed, which removes all the formatting. Oh, and writing all in CAPS or with Random capital Letters annoys me. (Yes, I was a teacher. Don't get me started on apostrophes.)

12. Any desired blog features?
I quite like the Blogger format, but occasionally would like a bit more flexibility re layout etc but don't feel motivated enough to develop my own template from scratch. I may do this eventually. I experimented with a new background this week; I'm not sure it will be permanent.

13. Have you suffered blog addiction?
Maybe ...

And how about you? What burns your blogging fires?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Ukulele chords

I asked for a purple ukulele for Christmas with the intention of having some fun with music. Since then, several members of my extended whānau have caught onto the idea and ukulele sales to them have reached an unpecendented high in anticipation of a big family Christmas together. But we are yet to actually play anything, either individually or as a group. (I think they're all waiting for me to teach them to play or, more likely, teach their kids.) Remembering the four guitar chords I learned to play when I first started teacher training wasn't hard - but what next?

Here are a few chords to help you form a basic repertoire:

It's sad, but true, that a beginner can play a huge array of songs with just these chords or simple variations on them. There are some great tips for beginners on the Ukulele Hunt blog, including links to almost every ukulele-related site that exists. I'm keen to find a group in Wellington who I can hang out and practise with, or to form my own if I can find enough interested people and, even better, someone who can teach us. In the meantime, there are lots of resources online, including some good videos on You Tube. There is a lot of fun to be had playing the ukulele - guaranteed to brings smiles to faces! :-)

So I'm going to practise some more, then book a trip to Central Park and see if I can hang out with this guy and have a ukulele jam:
Wow - George Harrison never sounded so good!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Gerry and the Pacemakers

Last night, I took my father to see Gerry and the Pacemakers in concert at the Opera House in Wellington. It was Dad's birthday present from last year; he is good at finding ways to get me to pay to take him to concerts he wants to see. ;-)

Technically, the concert was Gerry Marsden and a backing band; there was not a pacemaker in sight on stage, although I'm guessing there were several in the audience. Fair enough; it was a 50th anniversary tour. Except for a 10-year-old girl sitting in front of me, I was probably the youngest person there by about 30 years. (Ok, ok - Dad is only 28 years older than me, but you get the picture.)

Growing up in a musical household, I was introduced to two distinct musical influences from the 1960s: Dad's early Mersey sound, and Mum's cheesy pop American hits 1960-1965. Over the years, I have developed a musical empathy for both styles and can see how they existed in parallel worlds before the British invasion hit during the mid-60s. As soon as Gerry opened his mouth and delighted us with his broad Liverpudlian accent, there was no denying which camp he was representing, although he did play several crossover covers during the night.

The rhythm section (drummer and bass player) were tight and the guitarist (musical director) had obviously worked hard to establish a new musical direction for the group's sound. The keyboard player eventually woke up; I'm not sure why he was there for the first hour or so. (Yes, I'm probably unfairly hard on keyboard players; it takes one to know one.)

Local actor-cum Dancing With the Stars-cum wannabe singer Shane Cortese started the show with the backing band, playing a set of rock and roll-style numbers and a few obscure covers. He has great energy and has obviously done a lot of work developing his vocal skills in recent years. It was hard to stay enthused though; the break in between his set and the main event was excruciating long as well, while Shane was out front "signing merchandise", or trying to convince as many punters as possible to part with their money.

And so Gerry began his set. He's very short (it was funny watching roadies lower his mic stand and lower it again), entertaining, and his voice is still well pitched with a similar tone to his younger days. The high notes weren't a problem, but anything below a certain range was noticeably moved up a note or two. His constant banter throughout the evening added humour and warmth. It was a bit strange having him ask for the house lights to remain on during the whole concert so he could see the audience; weren't we there to see him?

There were far too many 'filler' songs for my liking; covers from an eclectic song list which didn't necessarily go well together or add anything to the song being covered. We were all there for Ferry Cross the Mersey; I'm not sure if I like the treatment the rhythm section gave it. The concert ended with the ultimate tearjerker, You'll Never Walk Alone. Despite trying not to, I couldn't help crying, as I have done every time I've heard this song since it was played at my boyfriend's funeral 15 1/2 years ago. The Liverpool football fans were happy, though, and more than a few red scarves were waved around for effect.

All in all, an ok concert but not one to rave about. Dad seemed to enjoy hearing some of the B-songs that his band played in the 60s. As I was leaving, I realised that this is the only concert of this type that I have been to since Stevie Wonder in Christchurch, and my next concert will be Simon and Garfunkel in Auckland in June. With that in mind, it's hard to compare with musical legends on that scale.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

This Charming Man - Marian Keyes

As a long time fan of Marian Keyes' books, I wasn't sure about the blurb for This Charming Man (2008). It almost sounded too formulaic: one man (charming, of course) with a secret, and all the women he is connected with throughout his lifetime coming together at a certain point. Obviously there were far more storylines and issues dealt with along the way, including domestic violence and alcoholism. After reading Cracks in my Foundation (2005), I once again applaud Keyes for her frankness and honesty. This Charming Man is certainly not her best work but, if you like Keyes' writing style and you're in no hurry, it's an enjoyable read.

I felt there were almost too many characters, many of whom could have sustained an entire novel on their own. Each character's background was developed in great detail, something I usually enjoy. However, this meant that most of the novel simply meandered along until about 3/4 the way through, when the action really started to kick in. I found Lola's short-hand style of dialogue quite annoying and couldn't help assigning her an English accent as a result, no matter how hard I tried to make her Irish. I'm pleased that Grace turned out to be different to how she was first portrayed. Her twin sister, Marnie, was a superb representation of an alcoholic in denial, and I think that somewhere along the line I fell in love with Damien. Who wouldn't?

Definitely one for Marian Keyes fans, but perhaps not a good 'starter' book for someone new to reading her novels.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

April Fool's Day

There is just something so inherently funny about 1 April. I feel sorry for people who are born on April Fool's Day because they are somehow destined for a lifetime of giggling (and not necessarily in a good way). A former work colleague was born on 1 April and so was her father. They thought it was convenient that her 21st and his 50th birthdays both fell on a Saturday; however, it took quite some convincing for their guests to believe that their birthdays and party was real!

Our IT manager at work has a great sense of humour. As a company, we have recently migrated to Google Mail and it hasn't been without its hiccups. (Don't even get us started on the disasters with Google Docs!) We often get lengthy updates from Glen with explanation of how to fix this problem or sort out that bug, sometimes with a description of why an error has occurred, but always tongue in cheek. Staff responses to these emails vary from those who have found their own solution already, those who are desperate to fix the problem straight away and will follow any measure to do that, and those who think it will just fix itself if they ignore it for long enough. Glen is very aware of all three groups within our staff.

Here is this morning's email, with the heading "URGENT - Major Google mail problem. Please read":

Hi Everyone

We have discovered overnight that a recent upgrade to Google's mail servers is causing problems with mail clients on both windows and macs. This has the potential to corrupt your mail indexes causing the loss of your saved mail. There is no need to panic though - as long as you follow these instructions carefully before you read or send any more email you won't have any issues.

The trouble is caused by the way mail clients cache messages from an imap server. The problem can be easily fixed by doing a full shutdown and restart which will flush out your old mail caches, so:

1. Once you have read this message close all of your applications and shut down your computer. This needs to be a full shutdown and not a restart - so on both macs and pcs choose the Shutdown option rather the restart.

2. Once your computer is shut down you need to leave it switched off for at least 5 seconds (counting 1 mississippi, 2 mississippi, etc out loud is a good way to make sure you waited at least 5 seconds.)

3. Turn your computer back on, and once it is started up again go back into your email client.

4. Google have put a special check in place on their servers which can indicate if your system is now in a state that will prevent the potential corruptions. To check this send an email to afcheck@*** with "check my mail" in the subject line and nothing in the body of the message (you might want to note this down on a piece of paper before you shut down). You should then get an automated response indicating that everything is ok. If you don't get a response check that you have the email address correct and send the message again - you can open this message again and copy and paste the address to be sure if you want.
Here is a reply from one of our UK staff:
My mail has been out of control for sometime so I called the Google help line. They directed me to their local support office which is really a shed down the road until their new office is completed. A very nice man in a headscarf and lipstick asked me if I was the Messiah. I said yes hoping it would give me priority, I could see others waiting.

I was directed to the rear of the shed where two blondes in white coats fastened my arms behind my back. I was taken by surprise because it's not even April the first here yet.

Confused of Colchester
And here is a suggested solution from a NZ staff member. (Note: you should always use an old shoe.)

Part of me would really like to try the email address Glen gave us, as I'm sure he's got some smart automatic reply set up, but perhaps I could use someone else's address so he doesn't think I've fallen for it? April Fool!